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Alcohol Detox Diet: What Foods Help Most During Withdrawal?

Medically Reviewed By: Benjamin Caleb Williams RN, BA, CEN

Written By: Phillippe Greenough

Article Updated: 09/25/2020

Number of References: 5 Sources

Alcohol detox is an uncomfortable process, and aside from medications, there are also particular vitamins and minerals which can be taken to help ease this process. These may reduce the symptoms that someone experiences, but they will possibly reduce the danger of serious complications and may shorten the time that acute alcohol detox lasts. Here, we’ll take a look at why someone would need a special alcohol detox diet and what it's benefits are.

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What Is An Alcohol Detox Diet?

Alcoholism will wreak havoc on the body and mind of a chronic drinker. This is not only due to the direct effect of alcohol and the brain’s reaction to it, but also vitamin and mineral deficiencies that arise from chronic drinking. In particular, electrolytes and certain vitamins are depleted due to alcohol metabolism and its effects on digestion. Restoring balance to these nutrients can reduce the severity of withdrawal symptoms and may lower certain risks.

An alcohol detox diet is a unique eating regimen that aims to replenish levels of nutrients that are commonly depleted through chronic alcoholism. That being said, this type of diet is not meant to be a cure for withdrawal symptoms but it may help when combined with medical supervision and medication. Additionally, a comprehensive detox diet may help increase someone’s chances for successful long term recovery by shortening the time that symptoms persist.

What Are The Benefits of An Alcohol Detox Diet?

There are several health risks and issues that can arise from alcoholism and detox in particular. While entering an alcohol detox center is the proper and recommended way to address alcohol withdrawal, these risks may be minimized through eating certain foods and taking certain supplements to give the body the fuel it needs to function in the healthiest, most effective way possible. The immediate benefits include reducing several aspects of detox or withdrawal including:

  • Minor reduction in the severity and duration of withdrawal symptoms
  • Lowered risk of seizures and subsequent brain damage in certain cases
  • Fewer heart and blood pressure issues

Additionally, the experience of post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS) may be less intense and shorter through eating a specialized detox diet. The neurotransmitter imbalances which result in PAWS may recover faster when the brain has all of the building blocks it needs to repair the damage caused by alcoholism.

Components Of An Alcohol Detox Diet

There are several key vitamins and minerals which are commonly depleted in chronic alcoholics. Working to diagnose and address these issues may be a goal of comprehensive medical care provided at alcohol detox centers. That being said, once someone leaves the supervision of medical professionals it is up to them to maintain this diet. To better understand why this is important, let’s look at some of the particularly important vitamins and minerals that typically need replenishment.

Protein-Rich Foods

Eating a diet high in protein will give the body the resources it needs to better recover from the damage done by alcoholism. This includes the amino acids for the body to repair dead and damaged cells such as those in the liver. Proteins also help the body utilize other nutrients such as vitamins and minerals, so a protein-rich diet will aid the absorption and utilization of many of the other parts of an alcohol detox diet.

Complex Carbohydrates

Foods rich in complex carbs such as beans, whole grains, and a variety of vegetables will all be very beneficial during alcohol detox. Carbohydrate-rich meals are known to increase brain serotonin levels, and complex carbs can also promote healthy blood sugar levels. These should be eaten in a healthy proportion to proteins and fats so as to avoid health issues, and different people may have different proportions that are considered “healthy” due to individual variations in metabolism. A common ratio considered healthy is around 50% of daily calories from carbs, 25% from fats, and 25% from proteins. Again, individual metabolism will cause different people to have different ideal ratios, so talking with a doctor or a dietician is highly recommended.

Thiamine (Vitamin B1)

Thiamine is the most commonly reported vitamin that is depleted through chronic drinking. This vitamin is crucial for healthy brain function, particularly in the cerebellum. The cerebellum is primarily responsible for coordinating and moderating muscle activity as well as combining information from various senses to produce an integrated perception of the world. Chronic thiamine deficiencies can also result in Wernicke-Korsakoff’s Syndrome, also known as alcoholic dementia. This is a crippling and irreversible mental disease that is very similar to extreme dementia commonly seen in elderly patients.

Folic Acid (Vitamin B9)

Folate (folic acid) is a critical vitamin that is used in the production of red blood cells, cell division, and DNA repair and synthesis. Deficiencies of folate can lead to forms of anemia, which results in lowered oxygen levels all throughout the body. Additionally, the brain’s regenerative processes will be slowed down through folate deficiencies due to lower oxygen levels and impaired cellular division and repair. This can result in the acute withdrawal or post-acute withdrawal symptoms taking longer to resolve.

Magnesium

Magnesium is extremely important in hundreds of processes in the body including nerve function, DNA synthesis, and muscle activity. In the brain, magnesium acts as an activity blocker, particularly in NMDA glutamate receptors. NMDA glutamate receptor overstimulation is one of the major contributors to alcohol withdrawal seizures. Being deficient in magnesium, these receptors may be stimulated much more often, precipitating greater withdrawal symptoms and increasing the risk of seizure. Magnesium supplementation, especially in alcoholics, has been shown to reduce the risk of death from alcoholic liver disease as well. Finally, magnesium is a major inhibitory player in healthy heart function. Due to the cardiac abnormalities experienced during detox, having adequate levels of magnesium is extremely important to maintaining a steady and normal heart rate.

Glucose/Dextrose (Sugar)

During detox, blood sugar and blood PH can fluctuate wildly. Due to poor nutrition, combined with the damage done by alcoholism, the body is prone to enter a state called alcoholic ketoacidosis. This is a metabolic disorder that will worsen detox symptoms and if left untreated can be fatal. Intravenous sugars such as dextrose are commonly used to correct this disorder, as they are rapidly used by the body to reduce the acid balance in the blood. This should be done only by a healthcare professional and only after thiamine has been administered to reduce the risk of Wernicke-Korsakoff’s Syndrome. Finally, phosphorus supplementation may be required as well, as phosphorus and potassium levels tend to drop rapidly after dextrose is administered due to rapid metabolism.

Other Supplements

In addition to the abovementioned nutrients that alcoholics are commonly deficient in, there is a series of secondary nutrients that play peripheral, but still important, roles in a safe detox diet. Some of these include:

  • Riboflavin (Vitamin B2): Riboflavin is critical in producing energy that the body can use from foods, particularly carbohydrates.
  • Niacin (Vitamin B3): Niacin has roles in many biological processes, especially brain function. This makes it important during the alcohol detox process, as the brain is the primary battleground where damage can occur.
  • Pyridoxine (Vitamin B6): Pyridoxine is used to grow and maintain nerves and helps in red blood cell production. It is also used to treat a condition called peripheral neuropathy, which is a nerve condition frequently caused by chronic alcoholism.
  • Manganese: This mineral is widely used all throughout the body, particularly inside enzymes which are responsible for growth, energy production, and it also facilitates the use of many other vitamins and minerals.
  • Other Electrolytes (Potassium, Calcium, and Sodium): All of these electrolytes are required for proper nerve function, among many other things. Imbalances can cause issues with brain and muscle function and subsequently affect a wide range of other vital functions.

This is just a list of some of the specific vitamins and minerals which are commonly supplemented through an alcohol detox diet. There are the usual dietary recommendations of proteins, fats, and carbohydrates of course, but these are some nutrients that are commonly found lacking in many alcoholics. Proper nutrition is crucial to minimizing risks, and a specialized detox diet may give someone the best chances to successfully and safely complete the detox process.

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